American PW Reassembling full plate American watches – top plate best practices?

Hans van den Berg

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Feb 4, 2011
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Ok, so I am self taught, but I am not a newbie when it comes to carefully maintaining and repairing my own pocket watches. However, there is one thing that I struggle with every time: putting 18 size full plate watches back together again. My problem is the part where the gears are all neatly in place and then you put the top plate on. There are always one or two wheels or pivots that will slightly move at the last moment, and not center on the hole they’re supposed to slide into. Especially the pallet fork is wobbly and moves about with even the slightest rotation of a wheel. As a result, I already once had a bent pallet fork pivot.

So my question: what actually is the best practice for putting the final plate on and have all gears at once or subsequently slide into their respective pivot holes, and get the pallet fork right at the same time? I always assumed that for assembling the bottom plate should indeed be on the bottom, you build up from there and last put the top plate on, but I suspect the other way around could maybe work better, that is top plate on the bottom and build up from there.

Any suggestions would be most welcome!
 

richiec

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I do the same, they are definitely very difficult at times, especially the lower jeweled movements. The pallet fork has a tendency to pop out of the plate during assembly and there is always that horrifying crunch sound when you thought you had the pivot in the jewel and gave the plate a little extra squeeze and either the pivot or the jewel breaks. I have gotten much better but my wife still will come in the room and startle me, it ruined one Aurora I had worked so hard to make an hour wheel for and then I jumped and two plate jewels were gone. I used to wait for her to go out but now with this pandemic, she never goes out.
 

richiec

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Oh by the way, what part of the Netherlands are you from, my family emigrated to America due to religious persecution back in the 1600's from Maastricht and Utrecht. The name was Van Vleck, Van Vleckeren, Van Vlack or any variation thereof.
 

Skutt50

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Mar 14, 2008
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Upside down is the what I do.

You can support the lever with a small piece of rodico. Graham have shown in an eralier thread how two rubber bands can be used to hold the plates together during assembly.
 

gmorse

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Hi Skutt,

Here is a thread with a picture in posting #4 of how the rubber bands are applied
Thanks for digging that old post out. It's worth mentioning that the watch in that picture was a quarter repeater and there were about almost a dozen arbors to settle in place, not just the three or four in a plain watch. The main risk in putting a full-plate lever together, (or taking it apart in the first place; do that 'upside down' as well), is indeed that the lever pivots are vulnerable if the lever gets stuck under the potence.

Regards,

Graham
 
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fijidad

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Ok, so I am self taught, but I am not a newbie when it comes to carefully maintaining and repairing my own pocket watches. However, there is one thing that I struggle with every time: putting 18 size full plate watches back together again. My problem is the part where the gears are all neatly in place and then you put the top plate on. There are always one or two wheels or pivots that will slightly move at the last moment, and not center on the hole they’re supposed to slide into. Especially the pallet fork is wobbly and moves about with even the slightest rotation of a wheel. As a result, I already once had a bent pallet fork pivot.

So my question: what actually is the best practice for putting the final plate on and have all gears at once or subsequently slide into their respective pivot holes, and get the pallet fork right at the same time? I always assumed that for assembling the bottom plate should indeed be on the bottom, you build up from there and last put the top plate on, but I suspect the other way around could maybe work better, that is top plate on the bottom and build up from there.

Any suggestions would be most welcome!
I've never assembled a full plate movement upside down, but I'm going to try it. The way I've been doing it is entirely out of respect to the pallet assembly; I install all the wheels into the dial plate, then install the pallet fork into the pillar plate, then bring the two together, aligning the two pillars either side of the pallet fork first, then with the finest tweezers I have, I finish setting the pivots in place, starting at one side and working my way to the other. There are times I've put a piece of Rodico in to hold the fork in place. It's worked for me for decades, but I'm self-taught also, and am always looking for better ways to practice.
 

Hans van den Berg

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Feb 4, 2011
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Thanks all for your feedback. I could not reply immediately, as I was called away on business.

It seems my question addressed a common problem with full plate assembly. I heard some interesting options that I will look into for future assembly. I have two full plate Hampden Railway movements and an early Illinois Bunn disassembled and waiting for me, so plenty to do in the coming weeks.
 

Hans van den Berg

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Feb 4, 2011
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Oh by the way, what part of the Netherlands are you from, my family emigrated to America due to religious persecution back in the 1600's from Maastricht and Utrecht. The name was Van Vleck, Van Vleckeren, Van Vlack or any variation thereof.
Not really a specific part, I would say. My family is from Rotterdam, but I was born and spent my early years in Amsterdam, then my family moved to Eindhoven, I subsequently studied in Leiden and then I went on to work in Utrecht. I still work in Utrecht, but live in Hilversum, just north of Utrecht. So I basically spent my years all over the place.
 

Douglas Davies

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Dec 6, 2013
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My son was sent home from college and his summer festival programs were all cancelled, so he thought it was a good time to take up watch repair. I foolishly got him a Waltham 1885 18-size, forgetting what a pain in the neck full plate movements are. First attempt at reassembly (after replacing cracked plate jewel for the pivot arbor) resulted in a broken lever arbor pivot, despite working upside down, as recommended here. I had him make a new balance arbor, which he did with plenty of guidance from me, but all work on the lathe and jacot tool being with his own hands. We tried again, this time with success. As mentioned here, the key was making sure the plate dropped easily onto the pillars. Then proceed carefully using only gravity to bring the plates together. The watch runs beautifully, well under 10 sec/day difference dial up/dial down, and about 10 sec/day between dial up and pendant up. In "use" (admittedly mostly sitting dial up on my dresser) the watch was within about 6 sec either way every morning, and total of about 15 sec after a week. Only issue is a relatively high beat error (about 2 msec on the machine -- the lever is perfectly centered at rest), which I suspect is from the pallets not providing equal impulse due to possibly some error in centering the jewel we replaced or possibly excessive shake in the new arbor. We decided to ignore this, since it is the kind of problem you would never guess you had if you didn't have a timing machine.
My son was very proud of his work and is ready to take on something more practical, i.e., a vintage wristwatch for himself. Maybe we have a new convert.
 

Randy Beamer

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Jul 5, 2011
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My father was one of the "old watchmakers" who used an old piece of 18S mainspring to build what they called a "potence clip". He was a Bulova school grad after WWII. I still use it today. Here's what it looks like

potenceclip.jpg
 
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DeweyC

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which I suspect is from the pallets not providing equal impulse due to possibly some error in centering the jewel we replaced or possibly excessive shake in the new arbor. We decided to ignore this, since it is the kind of problem you would never guess you had if you didn't have a timing machine.

The timing instrument is correct. Centering the pallet is only an approximation. The balance excursions are not equal on the two vibrations and final beat error is set with the instrument.

Lock adjustment is not the way to control beat error. It is done at the balance spring collet.
 
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Douglas Davies

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Dec 6, 2013
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Wasn't proposing to mess with the pallets. I merely mentioned that they were centered because that is about the only thing you can see on a fully assembled full plate movement and to illustrate the point you are making, that various old time methods of putting the watch "in beat" don't really address the beat error (i.e., unequal excursions).
 

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